On the face of it, motivation is “just” the act of finding a reason to do something.
However, when we talk about motivation in relation to our work, hobbies or life in general, there is an implicit understanding that we want to feel motivated in a good way. We want to look forward to doing something or at minimum not feel bad about having to do it.
So how can we get that?
There are certainly many levers we can move and there are buttons to push to make us feel more motivated. However, there is one basic truth that is often overlooked:
Motivation requires energy.
So what’s going wrong?
Think of it like a car. It will remain parked, until you start the engine and press the accelerator. Have you ever tried starting your engine with a flat battery? Exactly.
Imagine getting out of bed in the morning, still very tired. You realise that, yet again, you went to bed way too late last night. Maybe you had a drink or ate too late. Even when you were in bed, you couldn’t sleep right away and played a bit with your phone. When you finally turned off the light, you already had a hunch that the next morning would be a challenge. You feel like you just went to sleep when your alarm goes off. You open your eyes. What are your first thoughts? “Oh no…”
Motivation engine: woioioioioioiohhhhh. (In case it’s not obvious, this is my version of the sound of that starter cranking, but the engine not starting)
So you take a shower and grab a cup of coffee. You’d much rather stay in bed. You think of all the things you could do instead. If only you didn’t have to go to work. You’re tired. You dread the commute. Is it a long drive? Maybe with traffic jams? Or a trip in crowded public transport? A walk through the rain?
You finally manage to get yourself to work. You walk in the door. What’s your mindset like?
Does it feel good?
The good news is: if you got there, it means you actually already found some motivation, i.e. a reason to go to work that was stronger than the reason not to go. You possibly reminded yourself that you need to show up in order to get paid. But did it feel good? Were you motivated thinking about the upcoming day or was your trip fuelled by a sense of duty or even resentment?
When we start the day tired, we are already stacking the deck against ourselves. We are adding reasons to not feel good about going to work totally unrelated to the job itself, just by feeling that it would be so much more satisfying to go back to bed than it would be to go to work. It’s outright self-sabotage!
Getting enough rest is a basic requirement to ensure we can feel positively motivated.
How we program ourselves to arrive at work stressed:
When you start the day tired, you start the day in stress-response.
You’ve probably heard that severe sleep deprivation is recognised as a form of torture? Even in smaller doses, a lack of sleep can lead to poor memory function, affect your mood and your ability to concentrate. Coordination and balance are also reduced. Studies show that people who are sleep deprived have more accidents.
Your body has innate survival mechanisms and will send you strong messages to convince you to get the sleep you need. Your eyelids are heavy, your mind is foggy and your muscle-tone low. The only thing working against that is your mind that says: “Override! Override! You have to get to work!” This whole process is costing you a huge amount of energy.
Stress conditioning: this means you are practically programming yourself to associate going to work with stress. And none of this is even associated with the content of your work yet. If you do this often enough, you will connect this feeling to walking through the door of your workplace. Your body will remember the emotions, even on days when you’ve had enough rest. You’ve trained yourself to feel stressed when you start your day.
Your future motivation is also shaped by current and past performance. If your body uses up your energy to make up for exhaustion, this energy is not available for performance. So you may be less motivated in the future, if you remember uninspired past experiences at work.
Sleep isn’t the only rest we need. We need breaks during the day, we need fresh air and movement and we need some time for recreation. We need to regenerate and recharge. Sure, the body has its emergency systems to keep going, even if we don’t rest. This is the famous stress response and it’s a sure-fire way to minimise positive motivation.
Motivation without rest?
Of course it is possible to be both motivated and tired. I’m thinking of those occasions when we spend a long sleepless night, laying awake in excited anticipation of the next day and get up fully motivated in a good way. But are these days improved by that lack of rest? Not likely.
Rest is not a guarantee for positive motivation, but it’s a solid basis. Getting your motivation closer to a level of 10 is just easier if you don’t start the day at negative 5.
So check in with yourself: How often are you relying on your body’s stress response system to compensate for not resting? Can you think of examples? How did you feel?
Please remember to monitor your personal energy. Check in with yourself and see if you can notice a difference in mood, productivity and motivation on those days when you are well rested. Make a point of taking breaks or getting early nights where possible.
I’d love to hear about your experiences! Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.